It's still quite early in the 2014-15 college basketball season, but I already feel confident that Penn State isn't the worst team in the Big Ten. That's good news for me, but bad news for the rest of the conference. Sure, we just took the Challenge from those heathens of the ACC, but which conference won all the sexy matchups? Duke trumped Wisconsin, Virginia stomped Maryland, Louisville outlasted Ohio State.
The Big Ten may technically be the stronger conference, but I'm not sure the sporting public cares as much about Nebraska beating Florida State as we do. On the other hand, it was very nice of Iowa to finally show up after I picked them to finish second in the conference in our preseason poll. Also, it was pretty sweet for Rutgers to hustle the ACC by scoring eight points in a half against Virginia before beating Clemson on the road.
Anyway, there is still plenty of respect for the Big Ten to earn. Right now we look like a deep conference, but once again it doesn't look like any one team can win the NCAA Tournament over powerhouses like Duke and Kentucky. That perception can change, but it will come slowly. Let's start with this weekend.
Friday, December 5
The only game on Friday is Western Carolina at Minnesota, so you might be better off watching the Pac-12 Championship Game and hoping Oregon loses (good luck with that). If you love the Gophers that much, you can find this one on ESPN3, and don't get too confident. Although Western is coming off of losses to Charleston Southern and Eastern Tennessee State, they also didn't get blown out by Alabama and Mississippi State to start the season. Hopefully the Gophers will take care of business.
Saturday, December 6
There's plenty of football on tap for Saturday, but make room for some basketball as well. But I'm not talking about the BTN quadruple-header that features a bunch of what should be easy victories for the home squads. Starting at noon (11:00 central!), Michigan gets NJIT (KenPom No. 293), Michigan State gets Arkansas Pine Bluff (No. 330), Ohio State plays Colgate (No. 215), and Indiana hosts Savannah State (No. 304).
The really fun action takes place elsewhere on the dial. At 12:30 (11:30 CT), Wisconsin plays Marquette in Milwaukee for an annual rivalry clash. The Golden Eagles are a bit shorthanded this season (KenPom No. 103) because Buzz Williams dropped a candy trail to lure his recruits with him to Virginia Tech, but road rivalry contests can always become interesting. Marquette already lost to Ohio State and Michigan State this season, so hopefully the Badgers can complete the Big Ten sweep.
Wisconsin vs. Marquette isn't the only rivalry game on tap. Former Big East foes Rutgers and Seton Hall will be squaring off in Newark for a freaking basketball trophy. It's actually pretty awesome that this thing is made out of recycled boardwalk planks from Asbury Park, but the Knights might have some trouble bringing it back to New Brusnswick. Seton Hall is undefeated with a victory over George Washington and a Paradise Jam Tournament championship under its belt.
At least we know that Rutgers can win on the road now. In fact, they might be better off outside of the RAC after already getting stomped twice at home. By the way, did someone steal our Delaware trophy idea?
One other game of note is Northwestern visiting Butler at 4:30 (3:30 CT). This one will nationally broadcast throughout the country on FOX, so those Wildcats better not embarrass us like they did the last two times they took the floor. The Bulldogs are already battle-hardened with wins over North Carolina and Georgetown in the Bahamas, so defeating them will be a massive undertaking. Northwestern is dead last in the nation in steal percentage, so we'll just have to hope that Butler misses a bunch of shots.
Other games on Saturday: UMBC at Iowa, American at Illinois, Winthrop at Maryland, North Florida at Purdue, Penn State at Marshall
I'm putting Maryland and Illinois on upset alert because Winthrop already beat Clemson and I just don't trust Illinois. Penn State doesn't go on upset alert because they let every team hang with them. I'd love to see the Lions blow out Marshall, but it's not happening.
Sunday, December 7
In what might be the biggest Big Ten game of the weekend, Nebraska hosts Creighton at 7:00 (6:00 CT) on BTN. Both squads are looking to prove that they have what it takes to return to the NCAA Tournament after exciting season in 2013-14. The Huskers haven't been truly tested at home yet, and they're running out of chance to post an impressive victory before conference season begins. Creighton has a nice win over Oklahoma, but recent losses to the likes of Mississippi and Tulsa has the Jays longing for the days of Dougy McBuckets.
Minus last year's big star, Creighton is still a decent offensive team, but it's only shooting 34 percent from beyond the arc. Look for Nebraska to get enough from Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields to complete the domination of Omaha.
Monday, December 8
Purdue is hosting IPFW and Minnesota is at home for North Dakota. Both games are on ESPNU in a double-header, so you should watch. The Gophers should win because they are playing no nickname North Dakota instead of the superior Bison of NDSU. Purdue has a better chance of falling because IPFW is the Mastodons, but the Boilers will probably prevail anyway. Either way, hard to argue with Big Ten basketball on national television.